Fred Hermes Residence -- Racine, Wisconsin
The saga of the Hermes’ residence 5/34 Wurlitzer began in February 1956 when a young insurance agent from Racine, Wisconsin, by the name of Fred Hermes (then 29 years old) bought Detroit’s Michigan Theatre organ for $1,000, with the caveat that it had to be removed from the theatre in one week. The console had been encased in a concrete block room with a small opening, so Fred, along with three helpers, had to dismantle the console and remove it piece by piece. The four men worked 18-hour days, and within the week had the entire organ removed. The entire organ filled two large moving vans. The Michigan Theatre was later converted into a parking ramp with parts of the proscenium arch still visible to drivers today.
The original 28-rank organ was the largest 5-manual instrument Wurlitzer built. The other two such instruments (both 21 ranks) were installed in Chicago theatres. Fred had a home overlooking Lake Michigan that was specially constructed to house the organ. It is built into the side of a hill, the lower level of which contains a small theatre. Six rooms were built to house the organ – four as pipe chambers (just as original) and two as equipment rooms to house the massive relay, blower, and trems. To this day, it is still playing on its original relay, the original wiring to the chambers and chests, and the original cable to the console.
The size of the main room seating area is 30 x 60 feet and is 17 ½ feet high. The living area of the home is at ground level above the theatre. It took four years to recondition and reassemble the organ in its new home. Fred later dug a pit by hand under the console and installed a large lift so the organ could again rise to the sounds of an opening overture, just as it once did in the Michigan Theatre.